Police investigations and the role of the Crown Prosecution Service Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has requested that another police force review its investigation into the Lord Brittan case to ensure that it was “thorough, properly conducted and to identify good practice”. We welcome the Commissioner’s action in this respect as sensible, routine police practice. We would be grateful to be informed about the review’s findings, when it is concluded at the end of November 2015. (Paragraph 8)

The Crown Prosecution Service’s role in investigations

2.The Metropolitan Police has asked the DPP to consider changing the Director’s Guidance to allow “significant public interest” to be taken into account when coming to decisions about whether a case should be referred to the CPS, where the evidential threshold is not satisfied or the case is borderline. In evidence to us, the DPP expressed reluctance to consider making any change to the current criteria, because she believed that the requirement to meet the evidence threshold had to remain the first criterion for coming to a decision. (Paragraph 15)

3.The DPP could not have been clearer in her evidence to us about the primacy of the evidential threshold in making decisions on whether a case should be taken further. She told us that:

This is as emphatic as it is possible to be. We agree with the DPP that the evidential threshold required to prosecute a case must be met first, before the public interest is taken into account. (Paragraph 16)

Police and CPS handling of the case of Mr Paul Gambaccini

4.Assistant Commissioner Gallan told us that the MPS case file relating to Mr Gambaccini “was passed to the CPS on 10th February 2014”. The DPP has confirmed that “initial papers were provided by the police to the CPS in February 2014”. However, the DPP is very clear that “it was not until September 2014 that a full advice file was submitted by the police” so it would not have been possible for the CPS to come to a decision before this point. Once the full file had been received by the CPS, it advised the police “one month later, in October 2014, that no further action should be taken”. Mr Gambaccini was therefore made to wait six months for a decision to be made because the full file was not submitted by the MPS within a reasonable time. We regard this as unacceptable (Paragraph 22)

5.Our predecessor Committee recommended in March 2015 that the CPS issue a formal apology to Mr Paul Gambaccini, with an explanation of why his case took so long to deal with. The CPS has now sent an explanation to Mr Gambaccini but, due to an “administrative error”, it was not sent until October 2015, following the Chair of this Committee’s letter to the DPP. The delays in both dealing with the case, and then in sending an explanation of the reasons for this, are most regrettable. We welcome the apology from the DPP to Mr Gambaccini for the distress this caused him. (Paragraph 23)

Involvement of Members of Parliament in investigations

6.It was not appropriate for Tom Watson MP to have made the comments he did about Lord Brittan in the press. Even though Lord Brittan had died, and it could not therefore have impacted on a prosecution, it could have impacted on the Goddard Inquiry, which may consider the cases involving Lord Brittan. Despite the police not naming Lord Brittan, Mr Watson took it upon himself to do so in the press. He did not first contact the police to find out why they had not named Lord Brittan nor did he contact the Goddard inquiry. We recommend that MPs refrain from using parliamentary privilege or their position to name suspects that the police has decided not to name and that they should, at the very least, contact the police before doing so. (Paragraph 28)

7.It is an inevitable part of a Member of Parliament’s role that he or she will be approached by constituents, and others, in relation to allegations of offences, including historic sexual offences. This is particularly the case where an MP has taken a robust public position on an issue. Previously Mr Watson had campaigned over phone-hacking and wrote a book about the matter. It is entirely proper for an MP to try to assist people who bring such cases to their attention. However, in matters relating to the criminal justice system, this can create difficulties in determining where the line should be drawn. We believe that, to avoid being drawn into improper involvement, the safest course of action for an MP is to pass the information on to the responsible agencies, without comment, including in the media. In fact, Mr Watson did do this by sending his letter to the DPP of 28 April 2014. The agencies should then be left to pursue the case, in accordance with established practices; in effect, MPs should not seek to substitute their views for those of the investigating officers. This will help to ensure that Members of Parliament do not later find themselves facing potential accusations from a defence counsel of having coached a complainant, or of having impeded the achieving of “best evidence”, if a case comes to trial. It will also avoid the risk of adversely affecting future investigations and prosecutions. In relation to MPs communicating with the CPS about a case under investigation by the police, the DPP made clear that the CPS has no power over a case until it has been referred by the police for a decision by the CPS. (Paragraph 31)

8.Mr Watson gave a qualified apology to the Brittan family during his evidence to us, saying that he was “sincerely sorry for the hurt caused to Lady Brittan” and for the distress to the wider family. He stated openly that “he was trying to do his very best” on behalf of the complainant in the case and we accept Mr Watson’s motivation in bringing the “Jane” case to the police’s attention. However, it is unfortunate that, in writing the article in The Mirror, he could not have hoped to achieve anything other than to further impugn the name of the (by then deceased) Lord Brittan. We consider that it would have been more appropriate for Mr Watson to have written to Lady Brittan to apologise, and we recommend that he now does so. (Paragraph 32)

9.We became aware of reports in the media in which it was suggested that Tom Watson MP had raised other cases with the DPP. It should be noted that the DPP, in her evidence to us, stated that she had met Mr Watson for the first time that day, at the evidence session. We wrote to Mr Watson and the previous DPP to establish the facts and are grateful for their responses. However, it is clear that this is not a matter for this Committee to deal with. This inquiry has focused solely on the Lord Brittan case. (Paragraph 33)

10.The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been established, with Justice Lowell Goddard as its Chair, specifically to deal with the complex matters arising from allegations of historic child sexual abuse. It has a specific remit to listen to victims and to encourage them to tell the Inquiry about their experiences, and the process for this public engagement has now begun. We have full confidence in the processes being undertaken by the Inquiry and believe that Justice Goddard, whose appointment was endorsed unanimously by our predecessor Committee, should be given the space, time and support she needs to deal with these complex, difficult and important issues. (Paragraph 34)

The Metropolitan Police’s handling of the investigation process

11.We do not agree with the Metropolitan Police’s argument that Lord Brittan could not have been informed about the status of the investigation by the time he died in January 2015. The only reason for the delay was the MPS’s determination, in contradiction of the agreed Guidelines, to appeal the CPS decision that the evidence file did not meet the necessary threshold. Although the MPS has subsequently apologised to Lady Brittan, we do not regard this as sufficient. She has had the anguish of seeing her husband die without him knowing that he had been cleared. (Paragraph 39)

12.DAC Steve Rodhouse’s letter of apology, sent to the late Lord Brittan’s solicitors, makes clear that the MPS had itself concluded (by November 2014) that its further inquiries “had not strengthened the available evidence” in the case. Yet, despite this, the MPS still pressed the CPS to review its decision that the evidential criteria in the Lord Brittan case had not been met. The MPS told us that it took this step because it feared “media criticism and public cynicism”. This is not a proper basis for police decisions on whether to proceed with an investigation, which should be considered in a wholly objective manner, based solely on the evidence. We commend the CPS for taking the proper objective approach, based entirely on the evidential requirements. We consider that errors of judgement were made in this case and that the MPS should take steps to ensure that its future decision-making is not influenced improperly by its perceptions of potential public criticism. The MPS has a strong international reputation and in our system of policing by consent the police must command public confidence. This is not the same as reacting to criticism by members of the public and by the media. For it to be seen to be influenced by “media criticism and public cynicism” risks undermining the whole basis of its investigations and public confidence in the police. The MPS must avoid this risk and ensure that it acts in every case as a robust and rigorous police force. (Paragraph 40)

Conduct and treatment of the investigating officer

13.In our view, based on the evidence we received, the conduct in the Lord Brittan case of the lead investigating officer, DCI Paul Settle, was exemplary. He is clearly a very professional and experienced investigator. The MPS itself concluded that the further investigations it conducted after DCI Settle’s removal from the case “had not strengthened the available evidence”. We were not given an appropriate explanation by senior officers of the reasons for DCI Settle’s removal from the case, which leads to the perception that pressure was put on them to do this. It is regrettable and unacceptable that, after his removal from the case in May 2014, DCI Settle was on extended leave. This is a waste of police resources, particularly at a time when cuts in police funding are being made (on which we are currently conducting a separate inquiry). We welcome the assurance we received from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that DCI Settle has now been redeployed. (Paragraph 43)

Dealing with high-profile cases

14.Proper account needs to be taken of the considerable publicity which high-profile cases attract, and the enormous impact which this has on the individuals against whom allegations have been made. These cases need to be dealt with sensitively, ensuring that exactly the same standards of fairness are exercised as in any other case. The similarities between the Paul Gambaccini and Lord Brittan cases, in terms of the delays in progressing the cases and informing the individuals concerned about progress, are striking and point to a lack of co-ordination and unity of purpose between the CPS and MPS. We request that, in response to this report, the MPS and the CPS set out the steps they plan to take to improve their handling of such cases, particularly in relation to avoiding delays in the investigation process, and in informing the suspect about progress with, and the outcome of, the investigation. (Paragraph 44)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 19 November 2015